Feature

Hands from the Heart project gives warmth

Hands from the Heart founder Mary McDermod explains the process the group’s volunteers use to produce and deliver winter clothing items to veterans in need. (Eric Crump photos/H-F Chronicle)

The board room in Homewood Village Hall was filled with two kinds of warmth on Oct. 28, the kind offered by knitted hats and scarves to those who are unhoused, and the kind created by generous volunteers who do the knitting (and crocheting).

More than 20 volunteers with Hands from the Heart came together to prepare their creations for shipment to the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center in Chicago and to people in a poor area of Kentucky.

They produced about 1,000 items this year, according to project founder Mary McDermed.

This was the 14th year for the project, which started when McDermed went with her husband to a veterans event, and someone there asked whether anyone would be willing to knit scarves for soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

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“I hadn’t it knitted in years, but I said, ‘I can make one scarf,’” McDermed said. The woman who asked for volunteers told her, “I sent out 200 flyers. You’re the only one that asked me. Will you head up this project?”

McDermed started recruiting knitters to help, and the group has grown over the years.
After the U.S. pulled most of its troops from Afghanistan, McDermed found the VA hospital needed cold weather clothing for the unhoused veterans it serves.

Members of the Hands from the Heart group pose with many of their creations, knitted and crocheted hands, scarves and blankets that will help keep unhoused veterans warm this winter.

Elaine Gillies of Homewood said she joined the group more than a dozen years ago. She found out about it while shopping for yarn at a local fabric store. She struck up a conversation with another shopper, who happened to be a member of Hands from the Heart and urged her to join.

“It was just two random strangers looking at yarn,” she said.

Another member, Ann Bertell of South Holland, said she told her neice in Naperville about the group. Her neice spread the word, and her group contributed 30 hats and 38 scarves to the collection this year.

Group members sort and package handmade clothing for delivery to veterans.

Bertell also recruited a new member, Lois Wise of Thornton. Wise said Bertell came to a garage sale she was holding in May, saw her handmade blankets on display and informed her about Hands from the Heart.

“She started talking about crocheting and the group, so here I am,” she said.

The group has to buy its own yarn, and it takes about 500 skeins per year, so McDermed has gotten help from local charitable organizations. Anyone can donate to the project or join the effort by calling her at 708-799-5071.

“What we need the most is more volunteers,” McDermed said.

Participation is flexible. The group meets in January to distribute yarn and plan each year’s project. Members gather again in October to prepare the result of their work for delivery, but most members do their knitting or crocheting in their own time and at their own pace.

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